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A BusinessWeek.com columnist
and accomplished businessman, Vivek
Wadhwa shares his views on why Indians are such a successful
They have funny accents, occasionally dress in strange outfits,
and some wear turbans and grow beards, yet Indians have been
able to overcome stereotypes to become the U.S.�s most
successful immigrant group. Not only are they leaving their
mark in the field of technology, but also in real estate,
journalism, literature, and entertainment. They run some of
the most successful small businesses and lead a few of the
largest corporations. Valuable lessons can be learned from
their various successes.
According to the 2000 Census, the median household income
of Indians was $70,708�far above the national average
of $50,046. An Asian-American hospitality industry advocacy
group says that Indians own 50% of all economy lodging and
37% of all hotels in the U.S. AnnaLee Saxenian, a dean and
professor at University of California, Berkeley, estimates
that in the late 1990s, close to 10% of technology startups
in Silicon Valley were headed by Indians.
You�ll find Indian physicians working in almost every
hospital as well as running small-town practices. Indian journalists
hold senior positions at major publications, and Indian faculty
have gained senior appointments at most universities. Last
month, Indra Nooyi, an Indian woman, was named CEO of PepsiCo
(PEP ) (see BusinessWeek.com, 8/14/06, "PepsiCo Shakes
A MODEST EXPLANATION. Census data show that
81.8% of Indian immigrants arrived in the U.S. after 1980.
They received no special treatment or support and faced the
same discrimination and hardship that any immigrant group
does. Yet, they learned to thrive in American society. Why
are Indians such a model immigrant group?
In the absence of scientific research, I�ll present
my own reasons for why this group has achieved so much. As
an Indian immigrant myself, I have had the chance to live
the American dream. I started two successful technology companies
and served on the boards of several others. To give back,
I co-founded the Carolinas chapter of a networking group called
The Indus Entrepreneurs and mentored dozens of entrepreneurs.
Last year, I joined Duke University as an executive-in-residence
to share my business experience with students (see BusinessWeek.com,
9/14/05, "Degrees of Achievement") and research
how the U.S. can maintain its global competitive advantage
(see BusinessWeek.com, 7/10/06, "Engineering Gap?
Fact and Fiction").
1. Education. The Census Bureau says that
63.9% of Indians over 25 hold at least a bachelor�s
degree, compared with the national average of 24.4%. Media
reports routinely profile graduates from one Indian college�the
Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). This is a great school,
but most successful Indians I know aren�t IIT graduates.
Neither are the doctors, journalists, motel owners, or the
majority of technology executives. Their education comes from
a broad range of colleges in India and the U.S. They believe
that education is the best way to rise above poverty and hardship.
2. Upbringing. For my generation, what was
most socially acceptable was to become a doctor, engineer,
or businessperson. Therefore, the emphasis was on either learning
science or math or becoming an entrepreneur.
3. Hard work. With India�s competitive
and rote-based education system, children are forced to spend
the majority of their time on their schooling. For better
or for worse, it�s work, work, and more work for anyone
with access to education.
4. Determination to overcome obstacles. In
a land of over a billion people with a corrupt government,
weak infrastructure, and limited opportunities, it takes a
lot to simply survive, let alone get ahead. Indians learn
to be resilient, battle endless obstacles, and make the most
of what they have. In India, you�re on your own and
learn to work around the problems that the state and society
create for you.
5. Entrepreneurial spirit. As corporate strategist
C.K. Prahalad notes in his interview with BusinessWeek�s
Pete Engardio (see BusinessWeek.com, 1/23/06, "Business
Prophet"), amidst the poverty, hustle, and bustle
of overcrowded India is a "beehive of entrepreneurialism
and creativity." After observing street markets, Prahalad
says that "every individual is engaged in a business
of some kind�whether it is selling single cloves of
garlic, squeezing sugar cane juice for pennies a glass, or
hauling TVs." This entrepreneurial sprit is something
that most Indians grow up with.
6. Recognizing diversity. Indians hold many
ethnic, racial, gender, and caste biases. But to succeed,
they learn to overlook or adapt these biases when necessary.
There are six major religions in India, and the Indian constitution
recognizes 22 regional languages. Every region in the country
has its own customs and character.
7. Humility. Talk to almost any immigrant,
regardless of origin, and he will share stories about leaving
social status behind in his home country and working his way
up from the bottom of the ladder in his adopted land. It�s
a humbling process, but humility is an asset in entrepreneurship.
You learn many valuable lessons when you start from scratch
and work your way to success.
8. Family support/values. In the absence
of a social safety net, the family takes on a very important
role in Indian culture. Family members provide all kinds of
support and guidance to those in need.
9. Financial management. Indians generally
pride themselves on being fiscally conservative. Their businesses
usually watch every penny and spend within their means.
10. Forming and leveraging networks. Indians
immigrants found that one of the secrets to success was to
learn from those who had paved the trails (see BusinessWeek.com,
6/6/05, "Ask for Help and Offer It").
Some examples: Successful Indian technologists
in Silicon Valley formed an organization called The Indus
Entrepreneurs to mentor other entrepreneurs and provide a
forum for networking. TiE is reputed to have helped launch
hundreds of startups, some of which achieved billions in market
capitalization. This was a group I turned to when I needed
Top Indian journalists and academics created the South Asian
Journalists Association (SAJA) to provide networking and assistance
to newcomers. SAJA runs journalism conferences and workshops,
and provides scholarships to aspiring South-Asian student
In the entertainment industry, fledgling filmmakers formed
the South Asian American Films and Arts Association (SAAFA).
Their mission is the promotion of South Asian cinematic and
artistic endeavors, and mentoring newcomers.
11. Giving back. The most successful entrepreneurs
I know believe in giving back to the community and society
that has given them so much opportunity. TiE founders invested
great effort to ensure that their organization was open, inclusive,
and integrated with mainstream American society. Their No.
1 rule was that their charter members would give without taking.
SAJA officers work for top publications and universities,
yet they volunteer their evenings and weekends to run an organization
to assist newcomers.
12. Integration and acceptance. The Pew Global
Attitudes Project, which conducts worldwide public opinion
surveys, has shown that Indians predominantly hold favorable
opinions of the U.S. When Indians immigrate to the U.S, they
usually come to share the American dream and work hard to
Indians have achieved more overall business success in less
time in the U.S. than any other recent immigrant group. They
have shown what can be achieved by integrating themselves
into U.S. society and taking advantage of all the opportunities
the country offers.
By Vivek Wadhwa.
founder of two software companies, is an Executive-in-Residence/Adjunct
Professor at Duke University. He is also the co-founder of
TiE Carolinas, a networking and mentoring group.
Published in: BUSINESSWEEK
ONLINE, SEPTEMBER 13, 2006